Value generalization in human avoidance learning

  1. Agnes Norbury  Is a corresponding author
  2. Trevor W Robbins
  3. Ben Seymour
  1. University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Abstract

Generalization during aversive decision-making allows us to avoid a broad range of potential threats following experience with a limited set of exemplars. However, over-generalization, resulting in excessive and inappropriate avoidance, has been implicated in a variety of psychological disorders. Here, we use reinforcement learning modelling to dissect out different contributions to the generalization of instrumental avoidance in two groups of human volunteers (N=26, N=482). We found that generalization of avoidance could be parsed into perceptual and value-based processes, and further, that value-based generalization could be subdivided into that relating to aversive and neutral feedback − with corresponding circuits including primary sensory cortex, anterior insula, amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Further, generalization from aversive, but not neutral, feedback was associated with self-reported anxiety and intrusive thoughts. These results reveal a set of distinct mechanisms that mediate generalization in avoidance learning, and show how specific individual differences within them can yield anxiety.

Data availability

All relevant code for stimulus generation, data collection, and data analysis, in addition to raw behavioural data, is available at the project's Open Science Framework page (osf.io/25t3f). Raw functional imaging data is deposited at openfMRI (openfmri.org/dataset/ds000249) and derived statistical maps are available at NeuroVault (neurovault.org/collections/3177).

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Agnes Norbury

    Computational and Biological Learning Laboratory, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
    For correspondence
    aen31@cam.ac.uk
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-4377-3164
  2. Trevor W Robbins

    Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Ben Seymour

    Computational and Biological Learning Laboratory, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-1724-5832

Funding

Wellcome (097490/Z/11/A)

  • Ben Seymour

Wellcome (104631/Z/14/Z)

  • Trevor W Robbins

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Ethics

Human subjects: Written, informed consent was obtained from all study volunteers. Both studies were approved by the University of Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee (PRE.2015.101; PRE.2016.061).

Reviewing Editor

  1. Daeyeol Lee, Yale School of Medicine, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: January 3, 2018
  2. Accepted: April 26, 2018
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: May 8, 2018 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: May 17, 2018 (version 2)

Copyright

© 2018, Norbury et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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  1. Agnes Norbury
  2. Trevor W Robbins
  3. Ben Seymour
(2018)
Value generalization in human avoidance learning
eLife 7:e34779.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.34779

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